The opening round of the 2022 FIFA World Cup group stage is in the books. Here are five conclusions to take away from the first 16 matches in Qatar:
Close, cagey matches a recurring theme
There were five stalemates over the first five days of play. Of the five draws, four of them were goalless, which already trumps the number of 0-0 games from the last World Cup. Of the 11 winners this round, just three teams won by three goals or more.
It is evident that many of the countries will not want to get knocked out straight away. Even some of the pre-tournament favourites struggled in their opening games. Now that we have an idea where the countries stand after round one, it will be intriguing to see how things will go in the subsequent match round.
Upsets already taking place
Two massive scalps took place in the first round, as Argentina and Germany both fell to lesser favoured Asian opponents.
Lionel Messi had put the former in front just 10 minutes in against Saudi Arabia. Yet, the Saudis held firm until half-time, then in the second period, found two goals in five minutes to turn things around. The two-time World Cup winners did what they could to try and rectify the situation, but it wasn’t to be.
A day later, Germany suffered the exact same fate. An Ilkay Gundögan penalty put the Germans ahead of Japan before the half. Yet, Hansi Flick’s men failed to finish more of their chances. The Samurai Warriors struck in the 75th and 83rd minute to complete the comeback, now leaving Die Elfteam in danger of a second straight World Cup group stage elimination.
As Croatia (versus Morocco), Denmark (Tunisia), and Uruguay (Korea Republic) all drew as well, this could pose as a dangerous precedent for some of the top nations. This goes to show that no country can afford to rest on their laurels here.
No red cards in the opening round: how long will that last?
Just as it was four years ago, there were no sending offs in the opening round of this World Cup. There have been very few incidents of note thus far, so this barely surprises anyone. There have been 55 cautions so far, averaging just under 3.5 per game at this point.
As the intensity increases for all involved and more is on the line, surely we will see our first person, player or coach, to receive the first red card. There will likely be more tackles flying in, which always spells trouble. While some referees have been lenient to this point, they can only do so for so long.
More added time than normal
During the first couple of days, it was confirmed that there would be more time added back at the end of each half than what we are used to. It gives a true indication as to how much time is wasted during a 45-minute interval. We have seen as much as 14 minutes be added on at the conclusion of normal time.
Through the opening matches, six of the 43 goals scored in Qatar have come in added time of either half. This prepares us for a fascinating tournament as we could see the frequency of goals in stoppage time increase. Imagine an 100th minute goal to win (or draw/lose) a match. That would be of high drama.
Groups shaping up in an intriguing manner
Looking at the composition of the groups, there are five where only match had a winner/loser while the other game ended level. The other three sections have a pair of teams who won and a pair who lost. With that in mind, many of these groups are very well up for grabs.
Since there are many close games so far, no one has run away with a group just yet. Some of the favourites are in a promising position while others are in trouble. Several teams who would not have been given a serious shout to progress can still have reasonable belief that they can cause some (more) noise. So, the next eight days will be sure to give us plenty of drama, because we very well could see a top nation head out earlier than expected.